A Wonderful Encounter

I never knew I’d ever see the day when I’d have a job interview to go to, but no access to a car. Sadly, my worst nightmare came true – a couple days ago – when I noticed that not only did one of the tires of my SUV have a leak, but my steering wheel was making funny noises each time I drove it. I, of course, had no idea how serious the problem was until a personal friend of my hubby’s (who also happened to be a mechanic) came to inspect it. He then told me that not only was the steering wheel damaged, but that I needed to replace it completely, which would take a few days, as he would have to order the new part.

Crushed, I did now know what to do, as I had a job interview to go to in another part of town, at 9am sharp this morning (Friday). And, so I did what any reasonable person would do. I decided to stop sulking and call the transit commission to see what my route options were if I were to take public transit. Turned out that it was a pretty straight forward route (going to the place I was supposed to go to); however, I made the mistake of not asking whether I’d have to take the exact same route back, if I were to come back home. I just assumed, ‘cause aren’t most routes designed that way?

My reader needs to understand that it has been a very, very long time since I’ve taken public transit. And from what I could recall, if I took a bus, transferred at so and so location to get to the location I was to go to, on my way back, I’d take the exact same route back, only in reverse. Unfortunately, I found out too late that my route back home was much more complicated, as the buses stopped running at certain hours of the day. And so, I had to pick a route where I not only had to change four different buses just to reach the subway station, but I also had to make three more bus transfers to finally take the route that led to my house.

However, despite the fact that it took me two and a half hours to get back home, I have to say I had the most pleasant experience with one of the bus drivers. I went up to ask her about a specific route, but ended up having one of the best conversations of my life.

Not only was she one of the first Indian women who started operating a bus, but apparently she was a rebel. A great rebel. She basically told me her whole life story. She came from a very strict, traditional Parsi Indian family, living in Bombay (Mumbai). But unlike her sisters and brothers, she always questioned everything, especially pertaining to the ways in which women behaved and were treated by their male counterparts. And then when she turned 18, her super strict father tried to arrange her marriage to a man much older than her, but she decided to escape (with the help and support of her rather open-minded mother). And where did she decide to escape to? Why, yes, to my beautiful Canada! Not too long after that she met a man, fell in love, and married him, even though her father was strongly against it. But, being the strong-headed woman that she was, she threw all caution to the wind and went ahead with it anyway. [Gosh, what a brave woman!]

Twenty years later, she now has three beautiful daughters, all in fields that you don’t often see South/Central Asian women pursuing: one daughter is studying to become an aerospace engineer, the second is in law enforcement, and the last one just joined the army cadet. And she, herself, worked for the bank for 16 years before deciding that it was time she did something a little more exciting. And that was when she realized that she wanted to become a bus driver.

It’s interesting because she told me that when she first started driving a bus, about 5-6 years ago, every time a South Asian man would see her, he would give her a rather dirty look. A couple of them even came up to her to tell her that she shouldn’t be driving a bus, ’cause it’s not a job for women! :: gasp :: This one man even asked her if her husband *allowed* her to drive a bus, or whether she was driving it in secret. But she told me that she handled such men quite well, ‘cause when they’d belittle her or tell her that she wasn’t capable of driving a bus, she would retort back with, “Well, if I’m so stupid and incapable of driving a bus, then why are you hopping on my bus and putting your life in my hands? You do realize that you are riding on a bus that I’m driving, so what do you say to that?” Some men would go quiet and take a seat on the bus, obviously embarrassed, while others would just step off, refusing to ride in a bus that’s being driven by a woman – and one who just so happens to be Indian at that!

So, it was pretty nerve-wrecking for her in the beginning, having to deal with such negativity, especially from the men in her culture/community. Almost none of them showed their support and often looked at her with enmity. But she decided to overcome it all, and continued embarking on her new journey, landing her mark as one of the first South Asian female bus drivers. And, gosh, just listening to her tell me her story was really inspiring and so incredibly empowering at so many deep levels!

Oh, and I told her about my thesis and how I plan to work for the betterment of Pashtun women, and she suddenly noted down my email and phone number, telling me that she will introduce me to a very good and close friend of hers, who also happens to be a journalist working for CBC! She said that once I’m done my thesis, I can share my findings with her journalist friend, and she will air it on CBC! Ah, exciting stuff!

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